Classical pianist Denis Matsuev was recently announced as the latest 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ ambassador. He received his official ambassador certificate from Alexey Sorokin, CEO of the Russia 2018 Local Organising Committee, and FIFA Secretary General Fatma Samoura.
After receiving his certificate, Matsuev took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about the grandmother who sparked his interest in football, Spartak’s golden moment in 1989 and the World Cup he expects to create new opportunities for Russia.
How did you become a football fan?
Denis Matsuev: I’ve loved football since I was tiny. My grandmother was a huge fan of Spartak Moscow: I still remember her saying, “Sleep? What do you mean? What about the football?”. In the 80s, Spartak’s style was incredible to watch: the ebb and flow of the game, the movement. We had some amazing players in those days. When I first saw the team more than 30 years ago, I knew I would never be able to stop watching them. It was loyalty to Spartak that was one of the reasons I came to Moscow. I needed to go to the Central Music School but what I really wanted was to stay in my hometown of Irkutsk. I played up front for our local street team and I didn’t want to leave my friends for the lure of the big city. That’s when my mother said to me: “Don’t you get it? You’ll be able to see Spartak play in person, at the stadium!”. That was the argument that sealed the deal.
What was it like when you moved to Moscow? What are some of your enduring memories?
I came to Moscow to study at the Central Music School and went to every Spartak game. I drew up charts, recorded the results, keeping track of every goal. I even went to Spartak’s away games abroad – I could not imagine life without football. Obviously, the most memorable game for me was a Spartak game and I remember it like it was yesterday. The year was 1989, the place was the Luzhniki stadium and it was my first time there. It was a deciding league game between Spartak and Dynamo Kyiv. Valeri Shmarov scored with a minute to go and Spartak became champions of the Soviet Union. It was also the first time under Oleg Romantsev. Unforgettable.
Have you been to other football matches? What are some memorable ones for you?
As for other games, I remember the final of the Olympic Football Tournament in Atlanta in 1996 between Argentina and Nigeria. Nigeria came from behind twice, and then scored that legendary winner with seconds to go. I was at the World Cup Final in Paris in 1998. I was also there to see Russia’s gut-wrenching loss to Ukraine at the Luzhniki in 1999, when Andriy Shevchenko beat Aleksandr Filimonov.
How often do you get to watch your beloved Spartak Moscow?
I try to go to every Spartak game. We've been waiting a long time for the team to start winning again but I think real fans show themselves when things are tough. The 1976 season is a good example. I was only a year old then and I only knew about Spartak from others. Still, the fact is that after Spartak were relegated and legendary coach Konstantin Beskov took over the team, every home game was still sold out. The team which went on to dominate Soviet football was born in that moment of crisis. It’s true our team is struggling now, but I believe in Dmitri Alenichev - he should be given at least two years.
How excited are you for the World Cup to be hosted in your home country of Russia?
I was one of the happiest people alive when our country was chosen to host the World Cup. Obviously, I can’t wait for the tournament and I think it’s essential that we prepare a cultural programme, just like at the Sochi Olympics. I was involved in the Closing Ceremony at the Fisht Stadium, standing there in eye of the storm, with several billion people around the world watching. The ceremony reflected our culture and we smashed it! Sport and culture are the things that unite us with people in other countries and can help to resolve any conflict. I hope that every region of our country develops its own cultural programme. Each region has its own character, customs and traditions, which we can and should show to the world. The upcoming World Cup is a gift for each host city. Samara, Saransk and all the other host cities will have a chance to see international superstars in the flesh.
Have you already seen progress in the country in the build-up to the tournament?
I perform all over the country and can see new airports and hotels springing up all over the place which weren’t there five years ago. The country is on the up and our young people have new energy and opportunities. We must support them by developing new football facilities, because a focus on sport and culture is a healthy, positive thing.
How does it feel to be a Russia 2018 ambassador?
It is obviously a great honour to be named a World Cup ambassador. It gives me even more energy to promote the values of tournament and do everything I can on the cultural side of things. All host cities have their own symphonic orchestras and I think they should be involved in every match. As I said: sport and culture have to be aligned, and when that happens they can be put to great use. They are our international heritage.